A Conversation with Vietnamese Community Liaison, Tammy Dang

We recently connected with our Community Liaison, Tammy Dang, to chat about how the pandemic has impacted the Vietnamese community and the ways she has used technology to continue bringing her community together.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your work as a Community Liaison for the Department of Neighborhoods?

I have been in Seattle since 2005 and have been a Community Liaison for over five years. As a Community Liaison, I am a bridge between the government system and the community members. I share information with the community, conduct workshops, facilitate meetings, and help the community understand information from the City or the County. This is especially important for projects that impact the community members directly. I help share their concerns and wishes so their voice is heard, which can be hard for a lot of people because of the language barrier. I am using my bilingual skills in Vietnamese to help them, and I also do translation and interpretation.

How have you seen the pandemic impact the Vietnamese community?

The pandemic has had a big impact on the Vietnamese community because most of them work closely in person and they are not tech-savvy. When the quarantine happened, it was a big challenge for them. But luckily, we have strong community support. We contacted each other over the phone and shifted to virtual meetings. It helped maintain connections to each other, encourage each other, and take care of each other’s mental health. But those first months were challenging because many people were not familiar with how to use the virtual meeting platforms. I remember with one person, it took me 45 minutes just to help them call into a meeting, not video or Zoom, just call. Even small steps like adding the pin number could be confusing because it was unfamiliar. One thing that I admire about that person, and everyone I’ve worked with, is their patience. It took them a while to be comfortable with the technology, but they never give up and are always willing to learn something new. They go with the flow and once they figured it out, they would be there every week, easily and they would bring friends!  

One thing I also did was record my voice or a video and send it to people so they could hear and see the message instead of just in writing. In the past, it was nice to see each other in person and listen to each other’s voices. So, I would do anything I could to mix it up with a video to say hello and remind them about COVID protocols or to join a meeting. They nicknamed me Tammy Radio! When I would send a message they would say, “Oh here we go, Tammy Radio is on!” 

At the beginning of the pandemic, you started an online group to help share information. Can you tell me a bit about that group and how it has helped keep your community connected?

Back in April 2020, when COVID hit our area and quarantine was beginning to happen, I had the idea to establish a virtual meeting room. I created a video of how to join and sent it out to folks to help just get them in the room. We started out every week with the intention of sharing information related to COVID, having a space for people to share their struggles with the community so they could help support each other, and just providing an opportunity for human connection that could continue outside the meeting as well.

After that, the last part of an hour and a half, they are singing. I figured out that entertainment and music were things that could bring joy to people and connect them with each other even during quarantine. I am the emcee, and I helped them to coordinate and figure out who would like to sing each song and arranged the order. They sing Vietnamese songs, English songs, country music, and modern music. All kinds of songs, they just love singing! I also started making a poster to promote the meeting each week and would feature different people. They felt like celebrities! One person told me “I always dream of someday being on that poster because I like to sing, but I’ve never had a chance to be on the stage, and you make me feel so special.” I just like to give them encouragement, to join, and participate and give support to other members.

How do you think we can continue to use technology to help people stay connected to each other and their language and heritage?

We are happy that even though we are able to resume in-person meetings, it’s nice to have the virtual space as an option. They are convenient and add more events and opportunities to connect with the community. They like to have more activities and engagement and they already have the technology set up. It has worked well for folks to attend government meetings or forums as well, so they don’t have to figure out logistics for getting there. It is a convenient way to participate. I just send them a reminder about the day and time for the meeting and they show up.

Our group still gets together for two virtual meeting groups a week; one is for information and entertainment through singing, and the other is for information and prayer. It doesn’t matter your religion, we have Buddhists and Christians, and we just get together to share our burden or struggle, or someone they know who needs prayer, and we get together and pray. That’s been consistent every week since the pandemic happened. I’ve got people from four different states that call in consistently. I enjoy doing those things because I can see the difference it makes just being there for community members of all ages. I have a group of seniors, a group of parents with children that have disabilities, and mid-age individuals. They all join. Honestly, some of them don’t even know who I am because they have just been referred by a friend. I love doing that.